Eye of the Eagle (1986)

Robert Patrick stars in Cirio H. Santiago's absurdly action-packed Filipino Vietnam war film. Movie Power German R0 DVD.

The Film

At the height of the Vietnam War a brutal attack on an American base kills dozens of soldiers. In charge of an elite team known as 'Eagle', Sergeant Rich Stratton leads his men on a commando attack on a train carrying a Viet Cong officer - they kill their target but are abandoned by their pick-up and forced to trek back to base. Meanwhile a journalist Chris Chandler manages to get close to an abandoned military base where she discovers a 'lost command' of American soldiers who have absconded from their units and hidden in the jungle, carrying out covert attacks on American troops and bases for loot. Stratton and his Eagle team are sent to investigate...

The Vietnam war affected a whole generation of young Americans and divided a nation over what many saw as a needless war. As a result the conflict has been treated with earnest sincerity by most American film makers, examining its brutality and suffering in films from the viewpoint of the men on the ground in Platoon (1986) to the suffering of the neglected veterans in Born on the Fourth of July (1989). However in the Phillipines during the 1980s there was a boom in exploitation film making and a number of enterprising producers saw the potential for using the country as a double for Vietnam leading to a slew of action packed war movies throughout the decade. Attracted by the incredibly cheap production costs of these films, American exploitation producer Roger Corman provided funding and several American actors for the first of what would become a trilogy of films.

Scripted by Joseph Zucchero (who had previously written director Cirio H. Santiago's Rambo rip-off The Devastator (1985)), Eye of the Eagle starts off with a bang, literally - the opening frame of the film shows a soldier being shot in the head - and it never seems to let up on the action with well over two-thirds of the film's runtime being dedicated to explosive gunfighting and action scenes with the plot coming a distant second place. The storyline that there is, is incredibly simple (with its absconding officer theme it does seem to be a homeopathically distilled take on Apocalypse Now (1979)), serving to get our characters into innumerable fights with minimal exposition. Of course this does leave all sorts of important questions unanswered, like the actual motives of the 'lost command' (they are making money from their looting, but what they can do with this in the middle of a jungle is never stated), however none of this seems to matter particularly as the storyline speeds on to the next explosion - even what might have been a token romantic sub-plot is bypassed (although this does deny us the chance for a gratuitous sex scene). Obviously the pacing never gets time to slacken and the film builds to an inevitable but suitably dramatic climax.

Although hardly likely to be authentic the production looks as good as you could expect - the screen is continually filled with explosive effects and enough gun wielding extras to give the combat scenes a large scale feel, there is a good selection of American military hardware on show (including the requesite UH-1 helicopters and M113 troop carriers) and the Phillipine jungles do make a suitably convincing Vietnam (certainly much more so than the American rural locations used in many US produced low budget 'namsploitation films). The commando unit conform to all of the usual genre clichés with completely inplausible uniforms (including a noticable lack of any supply packs, even when dropped far behind enemy lines) and a habit of successfully wielding several guns at once. Probably the most inadvertantly humourous scene is the attack on a train which is built up as a major operation with commandos boarding at both ends, but turns out to be a tiny narrow gauge steam train with four coaches bouncing along the tracks.

Director Cirio H. Santiago is never more than workmanlike behind the camera, but adds enough variation to the combat scenes to keep the film from feeling repetitive - only one of the battle scenes, an attack on a village, becomes rather confusing with it being hard to tell just who is fighting whom. Despite the endless gunshots and explosions, gory effects are surprisingly understated - a few bloody head-shots are the most vivid effects on display, while some bikini-clad dancers in a nightclub are the closest the film comes to female skin, probably a reflection of the film's intended American release market. The soundtrack is a very mixed bag - sometimes fitting, often rather less so - one combat scene plays out to soft jazz and not in an deliberately ironic way.

Bulky American actor Brett Baxter Clark plays Stratton and does seem to be perfectly suited for this sort of film, he is joined by a very young Robert Patrick (best known as the T-1000 in Terminator II (1991)) in one of three films he made for Santiago in the Phillipines in 1986. Filipino exploitation film veteran Vic Diaz (The Big Bird Cage (1972)) has a very brief part as the Viet Cong commander targetted in the train assault.

For an audience wanting a serious, worthy Vietnam war film, this will doubtless prove disappointing (if not completely insulting), however to an audience looking for an all-out low-budget action-fest and prepared to accept the limitations of the genre, Eye of the Eagle does not disappoint - an almost non-stop parade of over-the-top gunplay and explosions with just enough storyline to keep things moving, plus the amusing sight of a pre-fame Robert Patrick - only the lack of gratutious nudity stops this from being the ultimate exploitation action film.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Robert Patrick - an American actor who made his name appearing in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Directed by anyone interesting? Cirio H. Santiago - one of the Phillipines' best known exploitation producers, he also directed a number of films from Vampire Hookers (1978) with John Carradine, to contemporary war film When Eagles Strike (2003)
Who else was involved? Executive producer Roger Corman - the exploitation veteran who did have a successful directoral career.
Any gore or violence ? Some blood but no real gore.
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? One for fans of low budget action and exploitation films.

See Also:
Eye of the Eagle II (1989) A complete change for the series, a storyline based drama with only a few action scenes.
Eye of the Eagle III (1989) A return to the action packed scenes of the original, but with a more coherent storyline.

Visuals Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
Print quality is good - rather dark in a few scenes but probably as good as the film looked when shot.
The film was almost certainly indended primarily for video and television and so the fullscreen ratio would seem to be correct - it may have been matted down for cinematic releases in some markets.
Audio English stereo - sounds okay, occasionally muffled and some lines of dialogue are hard to make out.
German stereo - sounds fine but noticably more tinny when compared to the English.
Subtitles None
Extras This disc includes:
  • Trailer reel - includes the trailers for this film and the two Eye of the Eagle sequels as well as bonus trailers for a large number of exploitation films released on DVD by Movie Power.
Availability German DVD release - title Battlefield Vietnam.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Available in the US from New Concorde productions - now out-of-print.
Cuts? Cut status unknown - no apparent cuts. English language print.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 23rd January 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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